Two wins from two and top of the group, Mick McCarthy got exactly what he would have wanted from Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
The Gibraltar game was a slog but the Georgian game was much more promising and looked like a sign of things to come in the Mick McCarthy era.
As the dust settles on two victories and Ireland look ahead to June here are five things we learned from the first two Euro 2020 qualifiers.
1) Ireland Will Be More Open & Attacking Than They Were Under Martin O’Neill
Ahead of the game against Gibraltar, McCarthy outlined that he had had very limited time to work with his players.
Couple this with the fact that he explained main priority would be winning and not the performance, there was a fear that Ireland may not be as open and attacking as people had assumed.
In testing conditions in the Victoria Stadium, they struggled to create many clear cut openings and it looked as though Ireland would continue in a similar vein to how O’Neill had left them at the back end of 2018.
The Georgian game, however, was much more like it, with Ireland looking as promising in attack as they have done in a very long time, David McGoldrick providing the focal point up top while Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick supported from midfield.
McCarthy’s side only scored once and the Georgians did grow into the game but in truth, Ireland could have had 2 or 3 on a night where McGoldrick was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.
What was also promising was the fact that Ireland did not sit back when they took the lead and under McCarthy’s instruction pushed for a second goal.
2) Seamus Coleman & Matt Doherty Can’t Play Together (On The Right At Least)
Ok, maybe this is a bit of a premature assumption. The game against Gibraltar was a once off and it was played in conditions that even the finest of players would struggle in.
However, neither Coleman nor Doherty looked too comfortable in each other’s company on the right, with their style of play looking too similar to have them both on the same side.
McCarthy dropped Doherty for the Georgian game which was unfortunate given his amazing club form with Wolves but it proved to be the correct move, as Coleman looked much more comfortable with Brady cutting in on his left and allowing the Everton man space on his side.
The Irish boss will go back to the drawing board over the next few months, with talk of Coleman as a third centre half and Doherty right wing back or the Wolves man at left-back, despite the emergence of Enda Stevens, likely to rear it’s head once again.
If it ain’t broke though.
3) Conor Hourihane Is Going To Be A Key Player For Ireland In This Campaign
In the Euro 2016 qualifiers, it was Jon Walters, in the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, it was James McClean. Could this year’s key man be Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane?
The 28-year old was arguably Ireland’s best player over the course of the opening two games, looking promising against Gibraltar and excellent against Georgia.
Under O’Neill, Hourihane was frequently brought on as a holding midfield player but at club level always shone in a more advanced position. Who would have thought that playing players in their best position could be so easy?
Given the licence to go forward and support the attack, Hourihane looked lively and dangerous and his quality at set-pieces could be a massive asset especially against the bigger teams in the group like Switzerland and Denmark.
It’s fantastic to see him finally thriving in an Irish jersey.
4) Bringing Players Back From The Cold Isn’t Always A Bad Thing
Two of the standout men from last night’s victory against Georgia were 35-year old Glenn Whelan and 31-year old David McGoldrick.
Now as depressing as that sounds from the standpoint of developing youth (which actually seems to be going quite well as of late) it is also an indication that bringing players back from international wilderness, or retirement isn’t always a bad thing.
Whelan hadn’t been included in the squad for any of the Nations League games under Martin O’Neill with his last competitive start coming back in September 2017 against Georgia. He had retired in November 2018.
McGoldrick had never started a competitive game under O’Neill and had only registered 12 minutes of action in qualifiers, against Austria in 2015.
Both may be in the latter stages of their career but their form at club level was certainly deserving of international recalls, and their performances last night paid back McCarthy’s trust in the pair.
5) Ireland’s Goalscoring Issues Could Potentially Be Solved From Midfield
It’s important not to get too carried away. Beating Gibraltar and Georgia are musts if Ireland are serious about qualifying for Euro 2020. To put it bluntly, they’ve done the bare minimum.
There are lots of reasons to be optimistic though and one is that the Boys in Green are scoring goals again. Only two in two games, but that’s already half the number they managed in the whole of last year.
McCarthy outlined that he could use the midfield to solve his goalscoring crisis and he will no doubt be pleased that the goals came from Hourihane and Hendrick.
The pair worked hard to get into the box and support McGoldrick up top with Hourihane having a chance before his goal thanks to an excellent burst into the area.
When Alan Browne returns he will likely add another goalscoring option from that area. Goals from midfield also act as a great reliever of pressure from Ireland’s strikers who have been goal shy as of late.